Discovery, An Awakening II

by Frau Hunter Ash

Disclaimers:  Repeat after me: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Argo - etc etc etc. I am only borrowing them for my own entertainment, and hopefully, yours. This story is written for entertainment only and no copyright infringement is intended. Warning to anyone wanting to sue: don't bother, it wouldn't be worth it.

Alt Fiction/Sex: Yup, and it's between two consenting adults of the same gender. If this is illegal in your state or country, change your laws or move. If this type of story bugs you, leave now, I can only say I hope the sex scene is intense.

Violence/Language: Hmmmm, this does have some hurt and comfort aspects of the main characters. Also, one bad word.

Storyline: This story answers a question put forth in the story "A Visit Home, An Awakening." I hope the story stands alone on its own but you might want to read A Visit Home first. I hadn't intended on starting a series of stories but, there it is. It happened and I hope you like ‘em.

Gabrielle learns some truths about her past and some surprises.

Feedback: Yes, please! <beg> <beg> Don't worry, I don't bite. Wait, that's not right, I do bite. Okay, I promise not to bite hard.

Revised: June, 2001

Gabrielle stood up from the small table in the room and began pacing again, parchment and pen discarded on the table.  She knew it was going to be another sleepless night and it wasn't the first one of the week either. 

Once again she cursed the bandits who were causing all the trouble for her and her mate, her beloved Xena.  The bandits had attempted to take over two villages and Xena had spent her time running back and forth between the villages, building defenses, training the villagers and tracking the bandits for over a week now.

Gabrielle had barely seen Xena in all that time and never overnight.  The bard was beginning to get a little more than irritable from worry and lack of sleep.  She also felt helpless and that made her even more irritable than usual.  No matter how often it happened she just couldn't get used to being left behind when Xena left for battle.

Gabrielle looked out the window at the stars, lost in thought.  It wasn't that she wanted to fight, the bard knew herself well enough to know that she couldn't kill.  It was just being left behind by Xena that was bugging her. 

The reddish blond woman smiled to herself.  How many times had she and Xena fought over this very issue?  How many times had she disobeyed the warrior?  Then she smiled ruefully to herself, how many times had she gotten into trouble because of it?

She had reluctantly agreed to stay out of the way this time.  The bandits were hitting in several places at once and no one knew where they were going to strike next.  Xena hadn't wanted to worry about her and everyone else at the same time.  Adding to the danger was that these bandits were slavers, a chill ran down any woman's spine at the thought of being captured by this lot.

The bard practically flew across the room at the soft knock on the door.  She cautiously opened the door, hand on her staff and looked into the hallway. 

The dark haired warrior had knocked softly on the door and was pleased that it opened almost immediately.  It was late and she was afraid the occupant would be asleep and she didn't want to go pounding doors down looking for the small figure that opened this door.

She smiled and pulled back the hood of the cloak she was wearing to let the woman see her face.

"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed and dragged the warrior through the door.  The bard quickly removed the wet cloak from her tall mate and gasped.  "Oh gods," she muttered.  Gabrielle had seen her mate after battle before but it was always a shock when Xena came in from the field.  The bard's eyes quickly took in the torn leathers, dented metal, and slashed bracer.  She gasped at the vicious looking slash across the warrior's thigh that was bandaged with what looked like a two day old bandage. Blood was still trickling from a wound on the warrior's sword arm and her left eye was swollen and beginning to turn black and blue.

"Come on, love" Gabrielle coaxed the warrior into a chair and began removing the dented and cut leather armor.  After the smaller woman removed the upper armor, Xena leaned back in the chair.

"Missed you," she said softly, closing her eyes.

"I missed you too, my love." Gabrielle responded, kneeling down before the warrior and began to tug at the knee protectors and laces of the warrior's boots.  With a little more encouragement she got the warrior to stand and was able to remove everything but the leather shift from the tall woman.  Xena barely opened her eyes as she let the bard lead her to the bathing room.

Gabrielle quickly barred the door and pulled the leather off her warrior and gently guided the battered body into the tub.  The bard was frowning as Xena sighed with pleasure at the warm water.  Gabrielle made a mental note to find and thank whoever had the foresight to fill the tub when they saw the warrior come in.  Xena's head dropped forward almost immediately as Gabrielle grabbed a sponge and began rubbing the tired body in front of her.

"Can't let you stay in too long, my love." Gabrielle said softly. "Don't want to open those wounds any more than they are."

"Hmmm," Xena mumbled.

Gabrielle frowned.  It wasn't like Xena to relax this much anywhere except maybe in a barred room in the arms of her bard.  Gabrielle couldn't say that she had ever gotten used to Xena's heightened sense of alertness, brought about by years of being a warrior and a target, but she knew it was in the warrior's nature now and for Xena to drop off like this was unusual and worried the bard.

A knock interrupted her and she carefully unbarred the door to find the Captain of the Guards standing there, helmet in hand, looking about as grime covered as Xena had been.

"I wanted to make sure she made it here. It's over, the bandits have cleared out and both villages are safe.  She rode very hard to get here," he told the bard.

"Thank the gods, can you send for the healer, she has a bad cut on her leg."

"Of course, I'll get her personally.  Both villages owe you both a great debt." Misenus replied with a smile.

Gabrielle waved off his thanks. "Don't worry about it, it's what we do."  With an answering grin he was gone and the bard turned back to getting a nearly unconscious Xena out of the tub and dried off.  With another curse about bandits she got the warrior back to their room and into bed.

Within a candlemark the warrior had her leg stitched up and both arm and leg bandaged and was sleeping sounding in the bed.  Gabrielle was worried, Xena hadn't even awakened when the healer began stitching the leg.  Both Gabrielle and the healer looked at each other and the healer moved up the bed and felt the warrior's forehead.  The bard was instantly by her side when the young woman swore under her breath.

"What's wrong?" the bard demanded.

"Fever. It may just be from exhaustion.  Get her to take some of this herb with her tea and get some food and other liquids in her.  Rest is the best thing right now."

"Then she'll get rest." Gabrielle promised and the healer recognized the stubborn set of the bard's jaw.  The healer knew the fierce reputation of the former Conqueror of Nations but she had a feeling that this smaller woman in front of her was just as stubborn as the warrior.

"Good. No roughness, no fighting, no traveling. Her body needs rest."

Gabrielle thanked the healer and was surprised when the woman refused payment.  "The village Guard Captain said the village would pay for all your keep and Xena's care."

Once the healer left, the bard felt overwhelmingly tired.  It had been a long week for both the warrior and bard.  She pulled off her clothing and changed into her night shift.  With a sigh the bard crawled into the bed next to her warrior and wrapped her arms around the taller woman.  For once Xena slept soundly in the bard's arms instead of the other way around.

Xena woke up and groaned.  Her body hurt everywhere all at once.  With experience of a hundred battles she assessed her condition, feeling the bandages on her leg and arm and bruises everywhere.  She took in her surroundings and was glad to find herself in a solid room with a solid bed.  The warrior sighed; she began remembering making it back to the village and to Gabrielle.

Another moan escaped her lips as she attempted to sit up.  Xena smiled a painful smile when the bard entered the room with a tray in her hands. 

"You shouldn't be sitting up!" Gabrielle scolded.

"Why not? I'm not out of bed.  I have a feeling you're not going to let me out." 

The bard smiled and placed the tray over Xena's lap and then sat down on the bed beside the warrior.  She frowned and felt the tall woman's forehead.

"Still a little warm, you are definitely not getting out of bed today." the bard announced and Xena grinned. 

"Does that mean you'll be joining me?" she invited and Gabrielle laughed as she suddenly darted out of reach of the warrior.

"None of that, my Princess. The healer said you were to rest and rest you shall have." Gabrielle giggled at the frustrated look on her mate's face.

"At least kiss me," the warrior complained and the bard quickly agreed by removing the tray and lavishing kisses all over the warrior's face, neck and almost to the warrior's breasts.  Xena's breath became rapid and shallow.    

"Keep that up and you won't get out of this bed either," she growled and the bard danced out of her reach again. "Gabrielle," the warrior threatened.

With a slight shake of her head, the bard moved further away and stood by the bed, trying to catch her breath.

"Nope, rest you will have."  The small woman couldn't resist an evil grin at her mate.  Then the bard sat down on the bed again, replacing the tray of food, encouraging the warrior to eat.  "Seriously, how bad was it?" she asked and her quick green eyes didn't miss the look of pain that passed over her lover's blue eyes.  Xena's smile disappeared and she looked tired again.

"We lost a lot of good men.  They just wouldn't give in and it turned brutal at the end." 

"Brutal?" Gabrielle whispered.

"You don't want to hear this." Xena protested. 

Gabrielle felt a wave of love for her mate; Xena was always trying to protect her.  She placed her hand over her warrior's.

"Yes, I do. You're wounded, exhausted and probably came very close to being killed several times.  I want to hear that it worked out."

"It did, but not before they hanged several of our men that they had taken prisoner.  They hanged them right in front of us."

"Oh gods," the bard whispered.  Gabriellle was sorry on several levels, she realized.  The young bard closed her eyes as she pictured the scene and felt the overwhelming sorrow that the villagers must have felt.  She was also angry, it was all so damned senseless!  The men who died, their families who watched and for Xena who had to lead those men.  Gabrielle feared what that might have done to her battle scarred warrior's darker side.

"Yes.  We finally broke them.  The remaining leaders will probably face those same ropes when the villagers have tried them."

"You didn't....."

Xena smiled at the unasked question.  "No, I didn't give into the darkness, even when that happened."

"I love you, Xena."

"I love you, my bard."  Xena suddenly looked frustrated.  "For crying outloud - hand me my pack from last night.  There was a reason I was riding like demons were after me and I fell asleep instead!"

"You were feverish, exhausted and in pain." Gabrielle countered as she handed the warrior the pack with a puzzled look on her face.  She started to ask questions but Xena held up a hand for silence while she rummaged through the pack.  With a worried look she pulled out a piece of parchment and handed it to Gabrielle. 

The bard turned over the folded paper several times, it had been sealed with wax but bore no impression in the wax and no writing on the outside.

"A messenger came yesterday with that from your family.  I figured I could move faster than he could after the battle."

"My family?" the bard whispered.  A look of concern overcame the bard's lovely features and she unconscious pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes.  Green eyes sought out the blue ones of the warrior.

"You won't know until you open it, little one." Xena encouraged, feeling the same dread grip her own heart.  Families like Gabrielle's didn't hire messengers for simple letters to relatives.  It had to be important.

With a sigh the bard broke the wax seal and unfolded the parchment. 

The little bard read the writing twice, blinking rapidly.  It wouldn't sink in.  What? 

"No!" she was trying to think.  Father? 

With a cry she threw the parchment down and went to the window, looking out at the rain.  Xena carefully removed her breakfast tray and picked up the parchment.

Dearest Gabrielle, Patronius, the healer is writing this for me. I hope this finds you well. I must tell you that your father suffered an accident two days after the Spring Full Moon and is gone.  I do not know if this will reach you in time for the funeral but it would be good of you both to come home for a few days. I love you and you are both welcome.  Lovingly, Hecuba.

"Oh gods, Gabrielle, I'm sorry," the warrior, ignoring the advice of the healer, was out of the bed in an instant and took the bard into her strong arms, letting Gabrielle finally break down and cry. 

The words finally sank in as she felt Xena's arms grab her and turn her around.  She slid into her warrior's arms as the tears began to fall.  With the last bit of confusion and strength she let Xena lead her to the bed and let herself be enveloped into the warrior's strength. She finally let go as she realized the impact of the words her mother had written.

Her father was dead. 

After awhile the tears had slowed down and Xena began to make out words.

"Xena, I was so angry when we left! He thought I didn't love him!"

"No, little one." Xena stroked the lovely, reddish blond hair and held her little bard tight against her body. "We talked before we left, he loved you very much."

Gabrielle was confused.  When they had left Gabrielle's home her father had been in a rage.      

"You talked? After all that shouting and ordering you out? You remember his face when he found out I loved you!"

Xena smiled, she did remember his face.  She also had a pretty good idea what her own face had been like when he had ordered her gone, Gabrielle to stay and challenged the warrior.  Fortunately, Gabrielle had stepped between them and calmed everyone down.  Xena was now grateful she hadn't thrown him through a window like she had wanted. Gabrielle wasn't sure if her father ever realized how close he had come to being thrown through the closed barn door that day.  Or killed.  

Herdoctus had come to her later and apologized for his behavior and for the way he had treated Gabrielle and Lila growing up.  He was willing to try and change.  Xena cursed his stubbornness now, he hadn't wanted to approach Gabrielle and tell her that just yet.  Now it was too late to say it himself.

Xena told this and everything else to her bard as she held the younger woman.  The warrior tried to comfort as best she could, she knew Gabrielle both loved and sometimes hated her father.  Herdoctus had been quick to use his fists too many times on his daughters for Xena's taste and the thought of anyone hitting Gabrielle could bring the warlord back to the surface instantly, but she had tried to be understanding for Gabrielle.

Gabrielle listened, stunned.  Her father apologized for his behavior?

Xena went on to tell her that he admitted he hadn't been a good father sometimes and regretted it.  The warrior also blushed when she told her mate how Herdoctus had questioned Xena about her love for Gabrielle and how he made the warrior promise to make his daughter happy. 

"Why didn't he tell me?" Gabrielle whispered, tears beginning again.

"He was too stubborn.  He thought it was too soon after the fight and he promised to tell you the next time we visited." Xena again held the bard as she began crying again.

Finally, Gabrielle felt like the tears had stopped, at least for awhile.  "I need to see my mother," she whispered.

"Of course, we'll leave immediately." 

Gabrielle frowned and sat up on the bed, looking at her mate.  With careful eyes she noted the haggard look of her mate, the thinness, the bruising and the flushed feverish look.  "What are we going to do, you can't travel with those wounds and fever."

"I'm not staying here!" Xena protested right back. "There's still bandits out there." 

"You can't go right away either!"

Xena began muttering.  Then she threw her drinking cup across the room with a scowl.  She knew Gabrielle was right, her leg was in incredible pain just from crossing the room to the bard and she felt as weak as a newborn. 

"Feel better?" the bard asked with a smile.  Xena scowled as Gabrielle began packing her things.  "I'll take a horse and you can follow in a couple of days.  It's a short ride and it's in the opposite direction of the fighting." 

"I am not amused!" Xena growled.

Gabrielle felt her heart grow heavy with the thought of leaving Xena, of being separated again so soon and crossed over to the bed.  She reached out and gently stroked Xena's cheek and Xena nuzzled the hand.

"I know, but I need to get to my mother and Lila.  I also have to stop in the next village and see my uncle.  My mother left a parchment for me to read if something happened to either her or my father."

"Parchment? What about?"

"I don't know, she said it would answer some questions I had growing up and why my father sensed something different about me." Gabrielle moved back to packing.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Xena questioned, her own curiosity awakened.

"I didn't want to think about it. You know how curious I can get, I figured if I forgot about it I might be able to resist wanting to know what it was.  That and I didn't want to think about reading it soon." Gabrielle turned and fought back another round of tears.  To read that parchment meant that her father or mother was dead.

It was too soon!

"For once I need to leave you behind, my love," the bard said.

The irony was not lost on the warrior, it was usually Xena who left Gabrielle behind at some inn for up to a couple of weeks at a time to settle some war or bandit problem, especially when she needed to move fast.  Gabrielle's reluctance to ride a horse often meant her staying behind.  The bard continued packing.

"You hate to ride," Xena mumbled.

"Yes," Gabrielle agreed simply.

"You'll be careful?"  Xena's voice suddenly sounded small and the bard turned from her bags and threw herself into her warrior's arms, both crying.

Gabrielle did hate traveling by horse.  She hadn't grown up around horses and they made her nervous.  After several disasters with Argo, Xena had finally been able to teach the young bard how to care for Argo but Gabrielle still hadn't gotten used to riding.  Now, as she approached her uncle's home she was feeling it all through her body.  Fortunately the stable owner had given her a very gentle mare and Gabrielle had been grateful during the day's ride.  Now, she just wanted off the horse and a warm bed for the night.

The bard frowned as she stopped the horse outside the door of the house.  It was getting close to dark and there weren't any lamps lit inside and no smoke coming from the fireplace.  Gabrielle dismounted cautiously, staff in hand and ready for any potential trouble.  No one answered her knocks and she entered slowly.

After a quick scan through the house she realized that no one was home and hadn't been all day.  She lit a lamp and went back to the horse and retrieved a piece of blank parchment along with her pen and ink.

She had decided to leave a quick note to her aunt and uncle and continue onto the next village for the night.  She didn't want to impose on her uncle's home without permission.

Xena reluctantly stayed in bed for two days, having promised Gabrielle just that.  That didn't mean she was happy about it and on the third day she was ready to travel before the sun came up.  Argo, picking up on her master's energy, stomped her hoof, ready to be going as well.

Misenus met her at the stable door as she mounted Argo.

"Thank you, Xena.  Any time you need anything you just have to ask.  I'll always be in your debt."

"Call it even for the healer, Misenus." she smiled and grabbed his arm in a warrior's handshake.

The young man shook his head with a grin. "Can't call it even yet, warrior. My little sister was one of the women you saved from those bandit slavers when you snuck into their camp by yourself and freed them.  Don't think that I don't know what risk you took for that one."

"We'll call it even if you don't tell Gabrielle exactly how many times I risked my neck." she grinned back.

"Nah, but I agree.  Farewell, Xena."

Movement caught Gabrielle's eye as she walked out the door and she instinctively flung her staff up over her head in time to catch a sword blow.  She felt the broken staff catch her cheek and felt blood begin flowing.  She ducked back through the door but it crashed inward before she could bolt it.  She felt the table against her back and grabbed for the lamp as her attacker was framed in the doorway. With a growl she launched the lamp at him and was satisfied but horrified at the same time when the fire caught his clothing.  The man screamed and fell back out of the doorway.  Gabrielle ran to the door to see him rolling on the ground, attempting to put the flames out. 

"Damn you, Gabrielle!" he cried out, batting at the flames.

Gabrielle stood stunned, looking at the man.  A memory flashed to the surface, her wedding.

"Mens?" Perdicus's brother?  "What?"

"You're dead, bitch." he muttered as the last of the flames went out.

Gabrielle looked in his eyes and saw the light of madness in them.  She quickly flashed on several decisions and tore at the necklace around her neck, letting it drop beside the broken staff at her feet.  Then she bounded onto the horse, sending the poor mare flying down the road.

"Gabrielle!" Menestratus screamed after her.

Gabrielle suddenly wished she was on Argo.

Xena made good time and was pleased to be entering Poteidaia by the next evening.  She had taken it easy on Argo and the horse had kept up a good steady pace.  She directed the horse directly to the house where, just four months before, she had discovered the exact nature of Gabrielle's feelings for the warrior and had wanted to toss Herdoctus out the window.  Fortunately because of the family confrontation, both the bard and warrior had been forced to admit to each other the depth of their feelings and had bonded immediately as mates.

Lila greeted her knock at the door and surprised the warrior by hugging her tightly.  "Whoa, little one.  What's wrong?"

"We were worried, the messenger said that he had reached you and when you didn't get here a couple of days ago we began to get worried." the teenager said, pulling the warrior into the living area of the house where Hecuba rose from her chair and hugged the warrior as well.

"Didn't Gabrielle tell you I was following behind?" Xena asked.

"Isn't she with you?" Hecuba whispered.

"What? She left me two days ago."  Lila grabbed Xena and pulled her over to a chair, noticing the stunned look on the warrior's face and the heavy limp.

"She's not here and we've had no word." Hecuba said softly, looking to the warrior for answers.

"She said she was going to stop and see her uncle and then come here for the funeral." Xena told the two women.  She stood up quickly and winced at the pain in the leg.  "Where does your brother live?"

"Two villages over to the east.  His name is Harpalion and he's the baker. Hurry, please."

"Don't worry, I'll find her." Xena promised, heading out the door.

 Lila followed her out. "Let me come with you." she pleaded.

"No, your mother needs you here and I'll travel faster alone."  Xena quickly mounted her horse and leaned down and touched Lila's hair.  "I'll find her." she promised again and urged Argo off at a gallop.

Gabrielle entered the village slowly, leaning over the poor mare.  Both looked and were exhausted.  She had taken the road leading to Poteidaia and then backtracked, as she had learned from Xena, hoping to throw Mens off from her trail.  So far, she hadn't heard him following behind her for a couple of hours.  The bard wasn't going to count on that though, Perdicus' brother was a soldier and hunter.  She was sure he could pick up her trail, if not in the dark then at first light. 

She had kept riding, having to slow down for the poor horse.  The bard spotted the welcome lights of an inn and hitched her horse to a post outside. 

Gabrielle entered the tavern carefully, just as Xena had taught her, she thought. She felt a familiar longing in her heart and soul, a longing and fear.  She really wished Xena was with her.  Even when under attack she was rarely afraid with Xena around, now she was being chased by someone who said they wanted her dead and she was unarmed and without her mate.

Seeing only local farmers and such the bard moved slowly to the bar and smiled a tired smile at the barkeep, a middle aged man getting around on a pair of crutches.

"Can I help you?" he asked. "I have excellent rooms and my cook is wonderful."

"No, thank you. I need to trade my horse, she's done in and I'm in a hurry.  It's very important."

"I'm sorry, young lady, but I don't think so." he frowned.

"The stablemaster?"

"I own the stable too." he seemed to be looking Gabrielle over and frowned again.  "You need a bed, food and rest, not another horse." he commented. 

"You're right but I don't have the time nor the option, thank you. Listen, do you trust the word of Xena?"

"Yes, totally." 

Gabrielle was pleased and surprised, Xena's name could bring a lot of reactions out of people and they weren't usually positive.  She was pleased that she had taken the chance with this man.  She was also determined to change those other opinions of Xena someday.

"I'm a friend and she should be a couple of days behind me. I swear before all the gods that she'll make up any difference in the value of any horse you want to trade me. Please."

The barkeep frowned and then nodded.  He began moving down to the other end of the bar and around it.  He stopped for a moment to talk with a very large woman serving drinks.  Then he joined Gabrielle at the door.

"What demon is after you, girl?" he asked as he looked over her horse and began pulling the saddle and bags off.

"I need to get somewhere quickly."

"Listen, I'm not a fool. You've a cut on your cheek that hasn't been attended to. You've been riding hard for quite awhile, your clothes, hair and horse show it. You're on the run from something or someone."

Gabrielle fought back the tears that threatened to spill out of her eyes.  "Someone wants to hurt me and I'm going somewhere safe."

"Until Xena can find you? Or is it Xena that you've pissed off?" he asked with a grin.

"What? No, nothing like that. She's my friend."

"I'm Timicus," he said, extending his hand.

Gabrielle let her instincts take over and smiled at the man, returning his handshake.  "I'm Gabrielle," she responded.

"The bard that travels with Xena."


Gabrielle was surprised when the large woman came around the building leading a large horse.  Timicus smiled at the young woman's surprise.

"Xena's a friend of mine, too. You need to travel fast and this guy will do it."

Gabrielle swallowed.  "Okay."

"You should stay, you'll be safe here. My word as Xena's friend that I'll protect you." he said seriously.

"Thank you, Timicus. I don't know if Mens is alone or not, I know he's a bandit and there might be others with him. Where I'm going it would take an army to reach me.  I just have to get there in time."

"All right, I'll watch for Xena and you can trade horses when you come back this way. You'll also find a pack of food on the big guy."

"Timicus, I can't...."
The bar owner held up his hand, cutting off her protests.  "Don't worry about it. You're always welcome here. Orithya, help her onto the horse."

Gabrielle blushed but accepted the larger woman's help up into the saddle.  Timicus reached up to shake her hand again.

"He's a good horse and not stubborn.  Just ride straight there and he'll fly."

"Thank you both."

Gabrielle let the horse have his lead and he began to fly and the young bard felt a ray of hope as she hung on for dear life.

"Where does Harpalion live?" Xena asked in the tavern later that night.  She was dusty from the road and her voice was stern and short. 

"I'm Harpalion, you must be Xena," a voice said next to her.  The warrior turned and found a middle-aged man standing at the bar.  She could see the family resemblance between him and his sister.

"Yes, is Gabrielle with you?" 

"No, please come to my house, I think I might have something for you." 

Once inside his simple but well kept house he sent his wife to bed and came back from their bedroom with Gabrielle's broken staff in his hands.  Xena's heart sank as she took the pieces in her hands.

"What? How?"

"My wife and I were away to her family for a wedding.  When we returned I found this note," he handed the warrior a parchment.

"Dearest Uncle Harpalion, sorry to come in while you were gone.  Mother told me about the parchment you had for me if something ever happened to my father or mother.  I don't know if you heard about my father's accident but he has died and I came to retrieve the parchment.  I will come back and get it after the funeral, I am going home now. Love, Gabrielle."

"I found the staff just outside the doorway, that's what is puzzling me.  The staff and this," he handed the warrior a necklace of beads, bones and feathers."  He frowned.  "That's Amazon, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is.  She never made it to Poteidaia.  Something's wrong and she's telling me she heading for safety with the Amazons."

"Find her please, warrior."

"My word on it, Harpalion." Xena pledged as she slipped the necklace over her neck.

"Here, take this with you, I know she'd trust you with it." he said, handing her a small pouch.  "Inside is that parchment and a bottle of something that her mother left with me."

"Thank you."  Xena frowned at the pain when she mounted Argo again.  She looked down and saw the bandage on her thigh was bloody.  She cursed under her breath and urged the horse down the road. 

Xena was more than a little worried.  It had to be something very serious for the Bard to be fleeing to the Amazon nation and to miss her father's funeral.  Especially serious for the bard to put off finding out the answers to a mystery.  Xena smiled to herself, Gabrielle seemed to be born with an innate curiosity that could drive Xena crazy upon occasion.  Keeping secrets from Gabrielle was almost impossible, especially when she got her teeth into a mystery.

Gabrielle allowed the horse to slow down a bit as she approached Amazon territory, beginning to think that she might make it to safety.  She stopped the horse to take a drink from a waterskin when a crossbow bolt shot past her head.  With lightning speed she found herself holding another bolt in her hand, having caught it on instinct.  She looked down the road and saw Menestratus reloading his crossbow.  With a snarl she urged her stallion back into a run and headed across the meadow, heading for Amazon territory, clinging to the horse.

As her horse broke through a line of trees Gabrielle heard a challenging bird cry but didn't stop her horse until she was across a clearing and in another tree line.  She fell off the horse and dashed behind a tree, raising her hands and clasping her wrists together in a sign that she was unarmed.

She heard Menestratus break into the clearing on his horse, looking for her. 

"Stop there or die!" a harsh voice shouted out from the trees.

Gabrielle peeked around the tree and saw the man stop his horse, looking puzzled. With a snarl he began to move the horse forward again only to pull up suddenly when several arrows penetrated the ground in front of the horse.

"You are entering Amazon territory and you are not welcome.  Leave or die." the voice ordered.

"Send the girl out! She's not one of you!" he demanded.

Gabrielle sensed movement and turned to see several Amazons drop from the surrounding trees, weapons at ready.  They went to their knees immediately upon seeing her face. 

The lead border guard spoke, "My Queen, do we kill him?"

"No," Gabrielle glanced back at Menestratus. "Tell him you have granted the bard sanctuary and to leave." she instructed.

The lead border guard shouted that at Menestratus who glared about him, obviously debating whether to risk it. 

"Let me kill him, my Queen." one of the Amazons demanded.

"No, put an arrow over his head. Part his hair." Gabrielle smiled grimly.

The Amazon grinned and took careful aim.  The Amazon Queen had no doubt in the archer's ability, even shooting at a target on a horse shifting on its legs.  Menestratus cursed and turned his horse at a run when the arrow clipped his ear.

The border guard leader turned to her Queen, noting the exhaustion and the cut cheek.  "My Queen, I'll send a runner ahead to announce your return.  Menthia will ride behind you and escort you to the village. I'm going to double the guards on the border."

Gabrielle nodded as one of the guards bounded onto the horse and then helped the bard into the saddle.  By the time they reached the village Gabrielle felt her head dropping forward and the Amazon behind her discreetly put her arms around the small bard, holding onto the reins and keeping her Queen from falling out of the saddle.

Gabrielle was barely aware of reaching the village, hearing anxious and demanding voices.  Not really listening as the runner and her escort told the Regent Ephiny what they knew of Gabrielle's presence there.  She was aware of being helped down off the horse and into someone's arms.

"Xena?" she whispered.

"No, my Queen. I wish she were here to explain this, though."

Gabrielle smiled at Ephiny's voice.  "She's safe." she whispered and closed her eyes again.

In the next village Xena finally got some partial answers from an old friend. 

"Xena?" the older man hobbled out from behind the tavern bar on crutches to shake the warrior's arm.  "I don't believe it! How are you? What brings you here?"

"How are you Timicus?" she asked, letting herself be led to the bar.

"Better than you, I think." he commented, looking her up and down.  Xena merely shrugged.  "Orithya, bring my guest food and port!" he called to the barmaid.

"I don't have time, Tim."

"Yes, you do.  When was the last time you ate?" he demanded, pulling a chair up to a table for her.  "And when was the last time someone changed that bandage.  "Orithya, the healing supplies too! And clean water!" he shouted.

"I really don't have time, I need information if you have it."

"Then you'll have it while I change that bandage and you eat." the barmaid completed the delivery of all the items her boss wanted with several trips and then helped Timicus in changing the bandages.  He whistled when he saw the wound.  With a shake of the head he poured healing herbs on it and followed that with salve.  Xena hissed as he rebandaged the leg while Orithya bandaged the arm.

"That wound is not looking good, warlord."

"I'm not your warlord anymore, Tim. I'm not anyone's warlord." Xena said between bites.

"I know, thank the gods." Tim grinned.  "I couldn't afford to lose another leg."

"Tim, I'm sorry about that....."

He held up a hand and laughed.  "Enough! We've been through this. Losing that leg was the best thing to ever happen.  Got me out of your army and soldiering and into this bar.  I'm married, got four kids, money set aside, good employees and I'm happy.  How about you? I hear you've changed."

"Yes. Tim, I don't have time, I promise I'll be back and we'll catch up."

"All right, finish eating and tell me between mouthfuls what brings you here." he sat back in his chair after whispering to his barmaid.

"Have you seen a bard traveling through, probably in a hurry. She's small, reddish blond hair, small but wiry build."

"Yes, named Gabrielle."

"Yes! You've seen her?"

"Yes, two days ago.  She came in here and offered to trade her horse for a fresh one.  I wasn't going to trade but she asked if I trusted your word.  I told I trusted you with my life and she said you'd pay any difference between the animals and that you'd probably be following.  I asked her what devil was after her.  I mean, Xena, she was scared.  Her hair was messed up and she was dusty from the road and she drank two goblets of water real quick like.  She told me to tell you that someone is after her and she's heading for the Amazons.  I made her grab some food and she was off immediately."

Xena was nearly frantic but Timicus held up his hand to stop her.  "Finish your food.  It won't do her any good if you fall out of your saddle."

The barmaid came back with a pair of saddle bags and handed them to Xena.  "Filled with travel food, my friend." Tim answered her questioning eyebrows.

"You were always a good man, Tim." Xena stood and winced at the pain and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.  Tim looked concerned and reached forward slowly to feel her forehead as well.

"You're burning up, my friend." he scolded.

"I've got to go, Tim."

"You need rest, you're friend is either safe or dead by now."

"She's not dead, I'd know that.  I've got to get to her as soon as I can." Xena threw the saddlebags over her shoulder.

"Is it true then, warrior?" Tim smiled and Xena hesitated at the door.

"Is what true, friend?"

"That the mighty Conqueror was conquered?" he grinned and then laughed when Xena began blushing.  "Go and come back this way, I want time to meet her."

With a sheepish grin the warrior was back on the road.

The closer Xena got to Amazon territory the better she felt about Gabrielle.  She hadn't found the bard yet and hopefully that meant she had out rode whoever was after her and Xena was confident in the ability of the Amazon's to protect their Queen. 

With her arm wounded the warrior wasn't as fast as normal and it cost her.  Xena found herself coughing in the dust of the road, wincing in pain from the arrow sticking through her shoulder and from landing hard.  With a growl she rolled off the road and drew her sword as she regained her feet.  She was limping heavily and the pain was clouding her eyes.  The warrior barely even caught a glimpse of the butt end of a crossbow before it hit her.

Gabrielle moaned as she opened her eyes, her body felt like it had been under the horse and not on top of it for the last two days.  She raised up on her elbows, looking around and taking in the familiar sight of the Queen's hut.  She sighed with relief, barely remembering making it to the Amazon territory.

Ephiny rose from the chair she had been sitting in and sat on the bed next to her Queen.

"I hope you don't mind me watching over you." the Regent smiled.

"Not at all, my friend." Gabrielle looked around again. "How long was I asleep?"

"Twelve hours." she grinned at the bard's shocked expression.  "I figured from your condition and how tired that horse was that you've been riding hard for at least a day and night."

"That's my second horse." Gabrielle confessed with a smile.  She groaned again as she tried to move.  "This reminds me why I prefer walking," she complained.

Ephiny grinned and stood up, helping the bard to her feet.  "Get dressed and we'll feed you. You can also tell me what's going on."

Gabrielle did explain from the point of leaving Xena behind in a village and getting attacked at her Uncle's home by her ex-brother in law.  Ephiny looked as puzzled as Gabrielle felt.

They sat down in the eating hall with food.  Gabrielle welcomed the sight of food, having eaten little for several days.  She hadn't been eating well when Xena was gone and she had been on the move and then on the run for days after that.  Ephiny frowned at the sight of her Queen, too tired and too thin, she decided.

"I don't get it," Ephiny complained. "Why would he want you dead?"

"I haven't a clue!" Gabrielle complained right back.  "And I don't know what to do with him!"

"What can we do? If he's determined to kill you then he has to be killed." Ephiny said simply.

"No, you know how I feel about killing."

"Gabrielle, my Queen," Ephiny placed a hand over the bard's. "I know how you feel but it's sometimes not an option. Either we kill him or Xena does."

"Xena, any word from her?"

"Not yet. You said she'd be three days behind you, it'll take her some time to get here."

"Maybe I can talk to him and find out what is going on." Gabrielle suggested. 

"No! I approached his camp last night while you were asleep and asked that very question." Ephiny said slowly.

"And?" Gabrielle demanded, her jaw taking that stubborn set.  She felt really frustrated and irritable.  Much like her warrior, the bard hated not being in control like this.

"He refused to say why he wanted you, only that we should send you out and soon.  I told him that you were under our protection and he wasn't happy about it."

"What in Tartarus could he want?!" Gabrielle snapped.

"I don't know. I've got scouts watching him.  He's staying just outside of our territory, waiting for you."

"I need a bath." Gabrielle muttered.

"And something to hit too, I think." Ephiny grinned and ducked Gabrielle's playful swipe at her head.

"Gods, I wish Xena were here." the bard muttered.

Ephiny watched as her young Queen crossed the common grounds towards the Queen's Hut.  "So do I, Gabrielle. I've got a feeling you two are even closer than ever and that you really need her right now."

Gabrielle, feeling the same, let her tears fall into the bath water.  Crying for her father, her family, her lover, and herself.

She also cursed Menestratus, whatever his reasoning, he was keeping her away from her family, her father's funeral, and her mate.

"This is not my week," the warrior muttered to herself as consciousness began screaming at her.  Once again, her trained mind took over and assessed herself and her surroundings.  She muttered another curse.  The warrior was blindfolded and that always presented extra problems when you didn't know where you were and you weren't ever sure when you were being watched.

Xena took several deep breaths and extended her senses.  She felt manacles on her wrists attached to chains; arms outspread, holding her body weight up.  She stood up to relieve the stress on her arms and wrists, especially the wounded shoulder which was feeling like a hot poker was being prodded into the wound right then.  Bird and other animal noises reached her as well as the scent of forest.  She hadn't been taken far then, she thought.  No sunlight but it was still warm, not night-time yet, that meant she hadn't been unconscious long.

Personal assessment: head hurt like Tartarus, thanks.  The leg was throbbing and felt swollen and that was not good.  The wrists hurt, of course, but the major pain was the shoulder wound.  Xena moved slightly and it felt like the arrow had been removed but the shoulder wasn't bandaged.

All in total, the former Warlord summed up: not good.  Manacles would be extremely difficult to get out of, especially blindfolded.  Not bandaging the warriors wounds probably meant her attacker didn't mean to keep her around.  Kidnappers usually wanted their captives healthy until they got their money.  She didn't think this one wanted ransom.

"I know you're there." Xena said simply. "What do you want?"

Further movement told the warrior that her armor had been removed and so had the dagger between her breasts.  Damn!

"Your death," a male voice answered, in a simple conversational tone.

"Terrific, stand in line."

The male laughed and Xena felt him approach from in front of her. Then Xena's head was rocked back and she could taste blood in her mouth and felt it flowing from her nose from the punch she had just received.  'I hate being blindfolded,' she thought to herself again.

"I think I moved to the front when I caught you. Although your wounds probably helped slow you down."  Xena did scream this time when she felt fingers jammed into her leg wound and quickly bit her lip.

"That's better," the voice approved of the sound.

"Who are you and what do you want?" Xena demanded.  It was hard standing on one leg for any length of time but it hurt too much to put weight on the other leg.  She didn't want to drop and let her wrists and arms take the weight of her body either, that would set the shoulder bleeding, not to mention the pain.  This was not a good situation, she decided again.

"I told you what I want, your death."

"What for?  Who are you?"

"I am Menestratus, brother of Perdicus." 

"Why in all the hells of Tartarus would you be stalking Gabrielle, your sister-in-law?" the warrior demanded and was surprised when her head rocked back and forth from the force of the blow from Menestratus' fist connecting with her jaw.  The warrior knew if she could see it would be only stars for the moment.  She shook her head and moved her jaw around, testing its movement.  She spit blood at where she had last heard his voice.

"She is no sister of mine!" he hissed, this time in her ear.  She hadn't heard him move while she was still reeling from the blow.  He was now behind her.  Xena felt the familiar sensation of a blade at her throat. She hadn't been on the receiving end of that kind of threat often but she knew how a blade felt.

"Because of both of you my brother is dead."

"Gabrielle loved Perdicus."

"And now she loves you.  The only good thing in my life is dead.  She talked him into giving up his sword and your creation, Callisto, killed him.  Gabrielle took something away from me and now I'm going to take something away from her."  While ranting Menestratus left a small and shallow wound along the warrior's throat, just enough to sting and draw blood.

"This isn't going to bring Perdicus back and it won't help you. Listen to yourself, you've become just like Callisto, the one who murdered your brother in cold blood." Xena said calmly.

The warrior gritted her teeth as she took several punches to the small of her back.  The blows managed to knock her leg out from under her and the full weight of her body was snapped up by her wrists, arms and shoulders.  As lightning hot pain shot through her body from her shoulder the darkness claimed the warrior again.

Gabrielle was wrapping leather around a new staff when Ephiny ran from between some huts and skidded to a stop in front of her.

"Gabrielle! My Queen,"

Gabrielle quickly stood up and grabbed Ephiny's arm. "What is it?" she demanded.

Ephiny swallowed visibly and then brought up a familiar shiny object. Gabrielle took it in her hand, staring at it, stunned.

No one else had a chakram like this, no one but her mate.

"Xena?" she whispered.

"Menestratus told the border guard that he has Xena and that you are to meet him in a clearing five marks from here at sundown or she dies." Ephiny said through gritted teeth.

"No," the bard whispered and Ephiny placed a hand on the young woman's arm to steady her.

"Gabrielle, you can't do it." Ephiny growled.

Flashing green eyes met the Regent's. "I won't let her die!" Gabrielle hissed.

"And I won't let either of you die!"

"Then let's get her back." Gabrielle said simply, heading for the main hut.  "Bring the scout and guard leaders in.  I want the best archers we've got ready to leave in half a candlemark."

"Yes, my Queen," Ephiny dashed away to get the instructions out before joining Gabrielle in the hut.

"Hesione," Gabrielle called out to another Amazon as she walked.

"Yes, my Queen!"

"Tell the Healer to be prepared," she ordered.

"Yes, my Queen!"

Gabrielle entered the hut with a curse.  She had been afraid for herself, now she was terrified for her lover.  She knew Xena wouldn't have gone down without a fight, which meant the warrior was probably even more wounded than the last time the bard had seen her.  Gabrielle felt the stirrings of hatred beginning.  She could understand just a touch of that darkness Xena had once fallen into.  She was beginning to hate Menestratus.

Gabrielle followed quietly behind the scout.  Traveling with Xena had taught the bard how to walk silently through the forest and through the tree tops.  Having been adopted into the Amazon tribe had furthered her training.  Xena had been pleased whenever they visited the Amazons that Gabrielle had taken every opportunity to train with the women warriors and scouts in addition to her studying of the Amazon scrolls. 

The scout stopped and motioned her Queen forward.  Gabrielle moved cautiously along the large tree branch and glanced into the clearing.  The scout grabbed the bard's arm to steady her as the scout heard a growl from her Queen. 

Gabrielle felt a roaring in her ears and eyes clouded over, seeing red.  Then she shook her head and cleared her vision. 

Chained and blindfolded between two trees was her mate, her lover, and her life.  Gabrielle was close enough to see the bloody wound at the warrior's thigh and the blood seeping from a wound in her shoulder.  She clutched her bow as she saw Menestratus approach Xena and then hit her in the face, sending the warrior's head snapping back and forth.  Gabrielle bit her own lip as Xena's began to bleed.

"How soon is everyone in position?" she whispered to the scout.  The scout sent out several bird calls and received several back. 

"They are in place," she answered.


Ephiny joined them. "Everyone is ready, Gabrielle. Let one of the archers take him." she urged.

"He's mine." Gabrielle said flatly.

"Scout, take a position in the next tree." Ephiny ordered and the smaller Amazon scurried through the tree and away. "Gabrielle, let one of the archers take him. Don't give into this feeling, this is what Xena fights against for you."

Gabrielle felt her muscles begin to relax and the roaring in her ears began to die down.  She lowered her bow and her head.

"You're right.  I couldn't even kill Callisto when I had a dagger at her throat. I can't do this," she whispered.

They both looked up to see Menestratus hit Xena again and Ephiny found herself growling along with Gabrielle.  Ephiny whistled a bird call, knowing every one of the archers were pulling back on their bows as they answered.

"Are you awake yet?"

"Fuck you." Xena mumbled.  Again a slap to the face.

"That wasn't a nice thing to say."

Menestratus seemed to be waiting for the warrior to say something else but she refused. 

"That little bitch managed to get into Amazon territory before I caught up with her so I've sent word that I have you and for her to come alone. Good thing for me those Amazons don't like to leave their territory and they won't trouble about a lowly bard. I don't know how long those she-demons would grant her sanctuary but I'm not waiting.  When she gets here she'll find you hanging here like a slab of meat," he informed her.

"You're not going to ambush her?"

"No, I want her to live with what I've lived with.  She can try and sleep nights with the image of you like this."

For the first time in days Xena felt the beginnings of hope, Menestratus didn't know about Gabrielle being the Queen of the Amazons.  For Gabrielle they would go to the end of the earth and for her champion, Xena. They would also protect Gabrielle if they didn't arrive in time to get Xena out of the mess.

"This is not what Perdicus would want."

"That's the ironic part of this," a voice insisted. "We are so much alike, warlord. I'm a mercenary, a bandit at times.  Perdicus was like light itself to me, always trying to get me to change. All he wanted was to help people and couldn't understand why I rode with warlords like you."

"Strats?" Xena whispered.  "I know your voice."

"Damn you," the voice sounded tired.

"You rode with me," Xena felt sick to her stomach.  She did remember him, a good soldier and an even better bandit.  "You were at Cirra."

The impact of the situation made Xena's head reel. 

"Yeah, I was there."

Xena's sharp ears picked up a bird call that was followed by an answering one.  She turned her attention back to the man she had known as Strats.

Gabrielle saw Xena's head snap up when she heard the bird calls and felt a surge of joy; Xena knew the Amazons were there!

"Tell them to fire if he starts to touch her again." Gabrielle ordered and Ephiny called out the orders in the special code the Amazons shared.

"Damnit! You're as much responsible for Perdicus' death as I am!" Xena snapped.  "You were there, you helped slaughter Callisto's family and turned her into the monster who murdered your brother. You can't blame Gabrielle for this."

"I realize that, warlord. That's why after Gabrielle finds your body I'll fall on my sword and accept my guilt."

"It doesn't have to be like this!" Xena protested. "We both made mistakes and people have paid for it. Don't make Gabrielle suffer for our actions."

"It's too late for me, warlord and now for you as well."

Xena had the feeling he was about to strike when she heard the sounds of arrows through the air and a slight grunt followed by something hitting the ground.  Then bird calls and animal sounds filled the area.

"No!" Gabrielle cried out, drawing her own arrow back.  Before Menestratus could clear the space between him and Xena he was pierced through the throat with a cleanly placed arrow.  Several more followed, piercing his chest from the front and behind.  None of the arrows came close to the warrior woman.

Gabrielle knew she risked her neck at the speed she left the trees but didn't care.  Nothing existed except to get to her lover.  The other Amazons trotted to catch up.


It was the sweetest sound that the warrior had ever heard.  "Gabrielle!"

She felt the bard's hands on her face and then the tender lips she had missed more than life itself.  As other hands began supporting her weight and working at the manacles Xena let herself slip away, feeling safe in the arms of her bard and in the company of the Amazons.

"I love you, little one," the warrior muttered as darkness claimed her.

"Xena! No!" Gabrielle wailed. 

Gabrielle felt someone lifting her up and mumbled a weak protest. 

"Quiet, my Queen. You won't do Xena any good if you grieve yourself to death with exhaustion. You're going to get some sleep. I'll watch over her." Ephiny's voice carried to Gabrielle's ears and, despite whatever her mind might have wished, the bard found herself settling into the strong arms that carried her to the next hut and placed her in a bed.

"Ephiny, wake me if anything changes," she whispered as Ephiny covered her.

"Immediately." the Regent promised.

Ephiny smiled at her mate, Solori as she joined the woman outside the hut and headed back to the Healer's hut.

"You actually got her to sleep?" her mate asked.

"No, her body finally did." Ephiny smiled a very tired smile. "I'm going to stay with Xena while Gabrielle and the healer sleep."

"All right, lover." Solori hesitated. "Do you think there'll be any change? It's been days and her fever was so high."

Ephiny closed her eyes and shook her head. "I don't know. She's strong but Gabrielle says that she was sick before that bastard got ahold of her."

"Gods, everyone is praying on this one." Solori mentioned.

"Good, can't hurt. I do know one thing," Ephiny said softly, stopping outside the hut door.

"What's that, love?"

"If Xena crosses over then Gabrielle will follow."

"What!? No!"

"I think so, look at her now! She's wasting away and I can't stop it." Ephiny growled.

"Have they figured out what their relationship is, yet?" her mate asked, a note of frustration in her voice.

"I think so. If not they both need to be hit over the head and dumped in a cage for a week until they do." Ephiny smiled. "You know we rarely see this kind of grieving."

"I know. Go let the healer get some sleep. I'll keep watch out here."

Ephiny stroked her lover's cheek fondly. "Thank you, my love."

"You bet."

Ephiny settled in for a long night, watching the warrior sleep fitfully in a fever induced coma, the infection raging through her body.  Ephiny felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes.  She truly didn't know how long the warrior could go on like this.

"Come on, Xena!" she whispered fiercely. "Fight this! Gabrielle needs you!"

It was another two days and another struggle to get the bard to sleep or eat. Ephiny was also looking very worn out and the strain was getting to the Healer as well. 

Gabrielle had finally settled into nightmare-plagued dreams on the fifth day since they had brought Xena in.  Nightmares of blood and of losing Xena kept the young Queen tossing and turning.  Her body was demanding rest but her mind and soul were refusing it.  The bard knew she, herself, was running a fever from the exhaustion and had dropped even more weight.  Ephiny had almost punched the Queen into unconsciousness to get Gabrielle to sleep.

Xena groaned and opened her eyes slowly.  The familiar surroundings of an Amazon hut greeted her eyes.  Ephiny came into her view and sat on a stool next to the warrior's bed.  The Regent looked tired but was a welcome site.

"Hey," she smiled down on the warrior and lifted a cup of water to the bruised and parched lips.  Xena sipped gratefully.

"Hey," she responded finally. "Where's Gabrielle?"

"Next hut over, I finally got her to sleep. Remind me not to try and change her mind about anything again."

Xena tried to smile but winced with the pain. "How long?"

"Five days." Ephiny put a hand on the warrior's shoulder as the woman attempted to sit up with surprise.  "You've been sick and hurt. Fever and the pain took you the first day and we've been fighting the fever ever since."

Xena took stock of her body and wasn't surprised she felt like she had been run over by a wagon, twice. 

"How bad now?"

"Not bad, the healer managed to get the infection down in your leg and the shoulder is actually healing nicely.  Other stuff is minor cuts and bruises.  You'll be off that leg for -another week."

"A week!" Xena protested.

"That's what the healer has ordered. I'll send for Gabrielle." Ephiny started to stand up but Xena placed a hand on the Regent's arm.


"Menestratus? Target practice for my archers when we found you."

Xena merely nodded at this information, it was what she had expected from the Amazons.  "Thank you, Ephiny. I knew Gabrielle would be safe with you."

"Always, Xena." Ephiny stopped at the door and looked back on the warrior. "By the way, I am finally reading your relationship with Gabrielle right? You two finally got together?"

Xena grinned, "Did everyone in Greece know but us?"

"Yup, there's been running bets as to when you two would finally figure it out. When did it happen?"

"Bets? Four months ago."

"Yup," the Amazon grinned at her friend. "I lost two months ago."

"Ephiny," the warrior's voice stopped the Amazon.  The Regent turned with a questioning eyebrow lifted.

"I asked her to marry me, Amazon ceremony."

The life came back to the Regent's eyes and she smiled a huge smile.  "Really?"  Xena nodded, smiling herself.  "If you weren't wounded I'd hug the stuffing out of you!  Nothing could make Gabrielle happier! By Artemis, we've a lot to plan for." The Regent was gone before Xena could ask for details.

"Terrific, I've asked for the ceremony and don't have a clue what the ritual is."

Gabrielle was awake instantly when Ephiny touched her shoulder. She sat up blinking rapidly, trying to focus both mind and eyes.

"Easy, Gabrielle." Ephiny said calmly. 

"What's happened?" she demanded, fear gripping her heart.  She knew Ephiny would only wake her up if there had been a change and the Healer and Ephiny had warned her that it was unlikely that Xena would ever recover up from this point on.

"She's awake," the Regent grinned and grabbed Gabrielle to steady her as the bard leaped out of bed and then swayed from the lack of sleep and food.  "Easy, she's talking and alert."

"Xena!" Gabrielle broke from Ephiny and dashed out of the hut. 

In moments Gabrielle was in her warrior's good arm, kissing Xena and crying at the same time.

"Shhh, Little One," Xena said softly. "I'm all right."

Gabrielle finally pulled back and sat on the stool, holding Xena's hand while the other hand ran over the warrior's body, once again reassuring herself that her warrior was in one piece.

"You are not all right, you've been out for days." Gabrielle held the warrior's hand to her cheek. 

Xena got a good look at her bard's face and was dismayed.  She'd never seen the bard looking so haggard. 

"When was the last time you slept or ate?" the warrior demanded.

"They made me eat and Ephiny made me get some sleep." Gabrielle protested.

"Uh huh, let me guess, you've spent most of the last five days right there next to me." Xena gathered the bard back with her good arm for another kiss and reassuring hug.  "I love you, Gabrielle."

"Gods, I was so worried!" Xena reached up to brush away a fresh set of tears.  The bard couldn't seem to stop touching Xena's hair, face, arms.

"It's okay. Just wasn't my week." the warrior smiled.

"Hah! That's an understatement." the bard grinned.

"What about your family, they were worried sick."

"I sent a runner to let them know I was okay and that you were safe."

"I'm sorry about your father's funeral."

"It's all right, just as long as you're safe, my love."

"For once you rescued me. Remind me to keep you around." Xena smiled and Gabrielle let the warrior pull her down,  The bard sighed as she snuggled into her familiar and favorite position, curled in Xena's arms, head on the warrior's shoulder. She carefully placed her arm around the warrior's waist and hugged softly.

"Forever." she whispered.

She felt Xena's body relax along with her own and drifted into a nightmare free sleep.

When Ephiny came back to check on the patient she found the Amazon Queen and her warrior asleep in each other's arms.  She smiled and backed out of the hut and left orders with the guards that the couple wasn't to be disturbed.

After a day of bed rest and food the bard felt better than she had in weeks and was glad to be out of the hut.  She and Ephiny had a more difficult time keeping Xena down though. Gabrielle smiled at the memory of the frustrated look on her mate's face.  It did help that Xena couldn't put any weight on the leg and Gabrielle kept the crutches out of reach. 

After a few more days in bed regaining her strength, Xena was able to move around the village with the aid of the crutches. 

It was also extremely difficult for both women to keep their hands to themselves.  It felt like forever to the bard since she had touched her lover more than five minutes at a time. Her body was aching to feel Xena's touch but neither of them had recovered enough yet. 

The Amazon Queen was pleased that Ephiny had sent a messenger to her family, letting them know that Gabrielle was safe and Xena was with them.  Ephiny had carefully worded the message so as not to alarm the family but to let them know the Amazons had both women and would protect them.

She let Ephiny catch her up on the politics that needed tending to, what documents needed signing, and such.  Then they began planning for a bonding.

After two days Gabrielle had a headache and begged off any more planning.  Xena had grumbled that this was probably going to get complicated and she was right.    Combining a traditional Greek wedding with an Amazon bonding, then throwing in the politics that came with a royal wedding were getting to the bard.

The bard was delighted to find herself at the practice yard and several Amazons were eager to spar with her and the bard's new staff. Gabrielle was irritated with her own body when she quickly realized that she wasn't up to her usual speed and stamina but kept at the sparring, wanting to work her aching muscles and frustrations.  The Amazon Queen always delighted in the training, especially the sparring.  It was very much like a dance between opponents and Gabrielle loved to dance.

In the back of the Queen's mind was the events of the last two weeks and her frustration about all of it.  She didn't understand why Menestratus wanted her dead, neither did Xena.  Even after talking about it and finding out that the man had been with the Warlord on her worst raids, it didn't make sense.  Why blame Gabrielle for Perdicus's death? 

Xena sat down on a hay bale, watching her lover spar with several other Amazon women with her new staff.  The warrior was pleased when Ephiny walked up and sat next to her. 

"How are you feeling, friend?" Ephiny asked.

"Better everyday, thanks to all of you. Thanks again for the rescue." Xena grinned.

"My pleasure, none of us would have been able to live with Gabrielle if we hadn't.  Tell me about the man."

"Menestratus," Xena's face grew thoughtful. "He was one of my soldiers years ago. I remembered him just before you showed up. He was a good soldier of sorts but blood-thirsty, he delighted in killing anything in his way."

"Did you know he was Perdicus' brother when Gabrielle married him?"

"No, I only knew him as Strats and we never talked."

Xena pulled out a dagger and began balancing it on the end of a finger.

"I never knew. Gods, Ephiny, will my past ever let us alone?" Ephiny didn't flinch when the warrior suddenly threw the knife, embedding it into a fence post close by.  With a casual grace the Regent walked over and retrieved the dagger.  Xena shrugged.

"Probably not," Ephiny said simply. "You've made up for your past, and you'll continue to do so but it will always come back to haunt you, warrior."

"Thanks." Xena muttered.

"He blamed you for Callisto," Ephiny encouraged the warrior to resume the explanations.

Xena laughed a grim laugh.  "That's what's so messed up! He was there at Cirra! He helped murder Callisto's family."

Ephiny thought she would fall off the hay bale and Xena nodded at the woman's shocked expression.

"Then what in Hades was his problem?!" the Amazon demanded. "He helped create her as much as you did."

"That's what I told him and he agreed. I can't explain it. Maybe he thought by killing me and hurting Gabrielle he could live with his own guilt in Tartarus. He was planning on killing himself after me."

"I don't get it." Ephiny shook her head.

"Neither do I and neither does Gabrielle. Maybe it made sense in his twisted mind."

"He nearly succeeded, we almost lost you and we would have lost Gabrielle if that had happened." Ephiny glanced over at the warrior, gauging her reaction.

"I know that. When it does happen to me, I want you to take care of her. Don't let her follow me, I'd want her to live." Xena's eyes flashed.

"You don't know it will happen."

"Yes, I do. The life I lead, not much chance of a long life."

"I know but that wouldn't be my choice, Xena. Even if we locked her away from anything sharp or long, I think she'd grieve herself to death over you."

"I wouldn't want that," the warrior muttered.

"Live with it," Ephiny said bluntly and Xena looked surprised. "It's something that we see with some life-bond mates when one dies. One half of a soul can't live without the other."

"You think we're life-bond soul mates?" Xena whispered.  She, herself, had felt such an overwhelming amount of love for the bard and felt so empty when Gabrielle wasn't around, but life-bond soul mates were rare. It was the stuff of legends.

Ephiny looked over at the bard and back at the warrior.  "Yes, I do."

With a spin Gabrielle swept the legs out from under one of her opponents and blocked a blow coming from overhead.  She quickly put a foot in the other woman's stomach and pushed that attacker out of reach.  She spun and blocked another parry with the staff laced along her forearm.  The bard yelped and dived forward under another blow, coming up swinging.

With a laugh Gabrielle disarmed one opponent, tapped another on the head to signify a killing blow and swept another off her feet, then she found herself sitting on her tailbone rubbing her ribs where someone had tagged her with a staff.  She grinned and stood up and helped up one of her sparring partners.  Gabrielle was covered in sweat and dust and felt great.  She had managed to work out a lot the tension and felt ready to face everything again.

Together Ephiny and Xena watched the little bard and laughed with the Amazons Gabrielle had just spared with and applauded.  

She looked over at the sound of applause and felt her face blushing red when she saw Xena and Ephiny clapping on the other side of the fence.

The bard felt this followed up the blush with a huge grin at the sight of her lover.  It was good to see Xena moving about the village with the aid of crutches.  Her face was strained from the pain and the fever she had gone through but she looked a lot better than she had in days. Gabrielle felt hope that everything just might be turning their way.

With the familiar set of her jawline, the bard made a decision. Then she broke into a smile again seeing the love dancing in her mate's eyes. 

"She's good." Ephiny commented.

"Very, you have good trainers." Xena agreed.

"Most of that is natural talent.  If she ever wanted to turn warrior she could be deadly in a knife fight, maybe even with a sword."

"I hope that doesn't happen." Xena said softly.

"You know the odds, traveling the way you two do. She'll have to kill someday."

Xena frowned.  "I know, I just want to put it off as long as possible.  I don't want anything to touch that light of hers."

Ephiny grinned, "Not as long as she has you, Xena. I've never seen her so happy."

Gabrielle vaulted over the fence and quickly hugged Ephiny and turned to hug her mate.

"You're good out there." Xena commented, pleased with the blush Gabrielle gave them.

"Thanks, I've been practicing."

Ephiny stood up, "I've got things to attend to and a wedding to plan. Lots to do." she grinned.

"Why do I get the feeling this could get complicated," Xena complained.

Gabrielle laughed and sat down next to the tall woman.

"Probably.  Ephiny says that it can get quite formal when it's the Queen getting married.  There's two actual ceremonies - one for us, family and the blessing of the gods; then a public one that gets complicated and pompous," she warned with a smile.

"Gods, I should just throw you over Argo and drag you to a lonely island for the rest of our lives. I suppose you'll want me to dress fancy."

Gabrielle lightly punched Xena's arm, pretending to look annoyed with her warrior.  "Can't have you scaring the foreign diplomats with your sword and chakram at the ready, can we?"

"Diplomats?" Xena frowned and the bard laughed heartily.

"Xena, mighty Warrior Princess! You'd rather face an army alone than a royal court, wouldn't you?" Gabrielle giggled.

"Yup, you bet." Xena readily agreed with a smile.

"Its just show.  Being the Queen they want to put on a big production, I'm getting them to tone it down a bit. I think you'll like the private one." Gabrielle leaned her head on the warrior's shoulder.  "How's the pain?"

"Better.  Beginning to itch, always a good sign. The healer says the shoulder will probably hurt in cold weather from now on, guess that'll go with the other aches and pains.  Are you sure you want this old war-horse?" Xena teased.

"Let me show you." Gabrielle leaned up and, with one hand behind the warrior's head, pulled Xena's lips to hers.  The bard surprised her warrior by pulling the woman down into her arms as Gabrielle sat down on the hay bale.  It wasn't often that Xena let the bard hold her like this, it required absolute trust, and one movement and the woman would be on her tailbone.  Xena was usually more self-conscious about showing affection in public for her bard and Gabrielle knew it.  Having Xena relax in the Amazon village like this was a treat for the bard.

Being a hopeless romantic and optimist, Gabrielle wanted to shout to the world about her love for the warrior woman.  Common sense told her that this wasn't the safest thing to do in the world but that didn't mean she kept quiet easily.

Then Gabrielle thought about a secret she was ready to face.  Xena sat up and stroked her lover's cheek.

Xena noticed a shift in Gabrielle's expression.  She sat up again and touched the bard's face, pulling the chin up to look in the deep green eyes she always adored.

"What is it, Gabrielle?"

"I'm ready to look at that parchment."

"All right, go grab a bath and I'll meet you at the stable." Xena told her.

"Can you ride yet?" the bard looked worried.

"I'll use a fence to get on.  Riding is easy, you can help me off when we get to the stream."

"Okay, I won't be long." Gabrielle jumped up and kissed her lover again and then dashed off. The bard marveled again at how quickly Xena had read the change in Gabrielle's expression and body language.  She wondered again for the hundredth time how they could have kept their feelings for each other hidden so well.  Then the bard corrected herself with a smile, not from anyone around them, just themselves.  How could they have been so blind?

Xena pulled herself up and began hobbling towards the stable, thinking about the next event coming.  Xena hated mysteries.  She was good at solving them but she hated them.  Gabrielle had wanted to wait until Xena could travel before approaching the next step.  They were both puzzled.  Xena couldn't put it quite into words, she knew Hecuba would never do anything to hurt Gabrielle but the contents of the bottle were mysterious and maybe a touch sinister. 

Xena wasn't sure which she dreaded more: facing stuffy nobles or Gabrielle's mysterious past. 

Gabrielle led Argo through the woods and along the stream until they reached a small pool of gentle water and helped position Argo next to a rock so Xena could climb off the horse without too much trouble.  Feeling somewhat helpless made the warrior feel grumpy and she fought down the emotion.

Gabrielle sat down slowly on the cloak she had spread out, her face showing her concern as Xena approached, hobbling along on her crutches.  Even though the warrior tried not to show any pain or emotion most of the time, the bard could see the tension in the warrior's face from the pain.  Xena sat down cautiously, bringing blankets and a couple of their travel packs with her.   

They had come to a small stream that flowed over many boulders and rocks and offered many small ponds.

The bard reached into her own pack and pulled out the bottle and second parchment.  After Xena had regained consciousness, Gabrielle had taken the parchment and bottle from the warrior's pack and opened it while lying back in Xena's arms.  She had been very surprised to find the letter had been written by her mother while she was still pregnant with Gabrielle.  The letter had instructed the bard to find a quiet lake, pool of water or a fountain, drink the contents of the flask with wine and watch the water.  The letter also instructed her daughter to do this with her soulmate.  Then the daughter would find answers.

Xena waited.  Green eyes looked deeply into blue ones.

Gabrielle was curiosity personified but this was a little nerve wracking.

"It's okay if you're not ready," Xena said softly.

"I don't know. I'm curious as a cat with a closed bag, but this..." she spread her hands indicating the bottle and the parchment. "What could it be?" she demanded suddenly.  "What could my mother tell me?"

"She said it might answer some questions you had growing up."

"Arrrgghhh!"  Gabrielle sat staring at the bottle, as if it might burn her if she touched it again.  Then, with a quick motion, she grabbed the bottle and uncorked it.  Xena pulled out two goblets and poured wine into both from a wineskin.  Gabrielle again looked deep in her lover's eyes and poured half the powder into each goblet.

"I love you, Xena."

"I love you, Gabrielle.  No matter what we learn."

With a nod of the bard's head they both drank and Gabrielle positioned herself between Xena's legs and leaned back into her warrior.  Together they began watching the water.

Both women found themselves closing their eyes, feeling like a fog had come over both of them.  Gabrielle watched everything start to go fuzzy and felt like she was detaching from her body.  Try as she might, the bard couldn't keep her eyes open and felt her head drop forward onto her chest.

After a moment Gabrielle opened her eyes and gasped, Xena quickly opened her eyes, muscles tensing.  She blinked several times.

She and Gabrielle were sitting beside a lake instead of a stream.  A gentle lake at dusk.  A very calm and gentle lake and Gabrielle realized with a start that she knew the lake, it was near her home in Poteidaia. 

Very close to them the sounds of someone running through the woods reached them.  Xena reached out to grab a branch to pull herself up quickly and stumbled back onto her backside when her hand went through the branch. 

A woman ran into sight and went right by them without seeming to notice them.

"Mother?" Gabrielle felt herself whisper and Xena's body jump as she, too, recognized the young woman throwing herself down on the water grass near the lake, in tears and holding her face.

It was Hecuba but a much younger Hecuba, more than 20 years younger.  She was crying and shaking and she didn't seem to hear the bard.

"She can't hear or see us, Gabrielle.  We're like ghosts."

"But she's younger."

"Yes, we're watching this happen back in time somehow."

Gabrielle leaned back into Xena's arms again. "Hold me, please." she whispered and the warrior gladly wrapped her arms around her love and Gabrielle grabbed onto the arms, holding tightly.

Hecuba sobs racked her body and tore at the hearts of the two women watching. Gabrielle felt helpless, she wanted to take the young woman in her arms and comfort her, she also wanted to know why her mother was crying so hard. 

Gabrielle felt a chill pass through her. "Someone's there." she whispered and felt Xena's muscles tense up again as the warrior realized the same thing.

There was a stranger with her mother.

"Why are you crying, woman?" the man asked.

Hecuba squeaked and sat up, stumbling backwards.  It was almost dark and she was alone with a stranger.

"I mean you no harm, why are you crying?" the stranger sat down on his haunches, probably trying to put young Hecuba at ease.

"My husband, he..... he came home drunk and....." Hecuba continued to sob.

"He hurt you and forced you." the stranger stated and Xena felt her bard's muscles tighten.  The warrior held tighter.

"No, not force, just not....." Hecuba stammered.

"Not pleasurable for you."

"No," Hecuba dropped her head.  "Who are you, I can't see your face." she whispered.

The stranger smiled and held up his hand and all the women were shocked when it began glowing, putting out more light than a torch.  He grinned.  "Better?"

"Apollo!" Xena hissed.

Hecuba went to her knees.  "Lord," she whispered.

"Don't kneel, please.  Just sit with me for a bit.  I have a tale to tell you, young Hecuba." Apollo ordered and sat down on the grass next to Hecuba, the light surrounding them.

"You know me?" she asked.

"Yes, I came to see you." he stated.


"I can't tell you everything but what I can tell you is that you are going to have children.  The first of them will be a girl and you will name her Gabrielle."

Gabrielle felt her head reeling and clung to the warrior's arms around her.

"Gabrielle?" Hecuba questioned.

"I like it." Apollo shrugged.  "You will have others but Gabrielle has a special fate. Sometimes the gods meddle a little too much in the affairs of you humans and upon occasion some of us have to step in and counter some of those affects."

"I don't understand, Lord."

"I know.  What I can say is thus, with the help of one of the gods a dark soul will fill this land and could destroy the very civilization that gives all of us life.  This dark one must have a balance and your daughter will be that balance.  She will be the light to end the darkness.  She will be blessed by the gods and especially by me, a child of the Sun."

'By the gods, he's talking about me and Xena!' Gabrielle's mind shouted.  "Blessed by Apollo?" she whispered to herself.

"Why me?" Hecuba questioned.

"Why not?  You are intelligent, gentle, loving and you have a strength that she will inherit.  It is her fate to shine the light of the sun on the soul that fell into darkness.  It will be Gabrielle's light that saves this soul and changes the Fates of the world."


"Shhh, little one." Xena's voice was strained.  Gabrielle was quite sure that she, herself, was trembling.

"This dark soul, won't it destroy my daughter?"

"It might, we can't control everything.  It will be up to Gabrielle and the Dark One.  It is a difficult path to go from the dark to the light but a very easy one for light to fall into dark.  The Dark One may drag your daughter down."

"Please take this away.  I only want a simple and happy life for my children."

"The Dark One is her soul mate though their lives will be difficult.  If their love prevails it will be the envy of the gods themselves.  It will be a bond that will span beyond eternity."

Gabrielle wasn't sure if she was going to be sick or faint.  For a bard who dealt in myths and legends all the time, this was a little too close to home for the young woman.  She was trying to process the information she had just received. 

Dark Soul? The world?  Soul mates throughout eternity?

"You're telling me that a child of mine will change the future of the world by changing just another person?"

"No, she will touch many souls along her way, not just the Dark One.  In reaching the Dark One and showing this soul love, together they will defeat the plans of some of the gods that wish to conquer the world of man to rule over them.  Together they will be like the Sun and Moon, each reflecting the best of each other and sharing the same light."

"Will my child be happy?"

"If they find their way to love, your daughter will gladly go through all the hardship it will mean to be with the Dark One.  She will love this soul beyond any love before, not even death will stop this bonding."

Gabrielle felt a tear escaping her eye. She had known in her heart and soul that she and Xena were meant to be but this was an overwhelming validation of that love. 

Xena wiped a similar tear from her face as well.

"You send a harsh fate to my child," Hecuba complained.

"Yes, I know.  My blessing will be one of the Light.  She will be curious, intelligent and a dreamer.  Encourage this in her, don't let her dreams die.  Do not let your husband break her spirit.  The talent of the God of Poetry will be hers."

Apollo reached over and touched Hecuba's face, instantly healing the black eye that was beginning to show.

"He's a good man, just a troubled spirit.  Be tolerant, he'll provide well for the family, just don't let his temper rule your children."

"He was raised hard." Hecuba complained.

"The visit he's receiving from Aphrodite right now will mellow him out a bit.  We can't change him totally," Apollo warned.  "He'll still fall short of a perfect husband but he will be good for you and the girls."

"Girls, I'll have more than one girl?" Hecuba gleamed.

"Uh oh, not supposed to reveal anything about the other one and you can't reveal anything about me until Gabrielle's either succeeded or failed with the Dark One." Apollo grinned.  Then his smile changed and he leaned over towards Hecuba who leaned back, a slight fearful look on her face.  "Relax, I don't seduce every maiden I see, no matter what the stories say." Apollo grinned and placed his hand over Hecuba's womb area.

Gabrielle, Xena and Hecuba gasped as light from his hand enveloped the young woman.  When the light faded Apollo was gone and Hecuba was smiling.  She reached down to touch her womb area.

"Gabrielle, you will my dreamer." Hecuba promised.

The darkness slowly filled the sight of the bard and warrior. 

When Gabrielle opened her eyes again it was dark and they were by the stream.  She felt Xena's arms around her and knew she was safe.  The bard frowned, they were covered with Xena's cloak. 

Gabrielle lifted the cloak with a question, turned and looked into Xena's eyes.  Suddenly she was in the warrior's arms crying.  Both women found themselves crying.

"He was talking about us! About you." Gabrielle whispered.

Xena let the tears run from her eyes.  "I know.  He's right, you did save me.  I would have slipped back into the darkness if it hadn't been for you."

"Wow, we are soul mates."

"Yes," Xena agreed with a smile.

After a moment the bard sat back up.  "Hey, who covered us?" she asked.

"Maybe one of the scouting patrols found us and covered us." Xena suggested but Gabrielle could tell that the warrior herself thought that unlikely and was equally as puzzled.

"Maybe."  The bard started to stand up and felt something fall from her chest onto the blanket.  With furrowed brows the bard picked up two strands of what appeared and felt to be necklaces.  It was too dark to see anything clearly.  She sat back on the cloak beneath them.

"Hey, how about lighting that fire?" she asked and Xena started to move, dreading the pain that was about to cause from sitting too long in one position.  Gabrielle instantly forgot the necklaces when Xena cried out, grabbing her leg.

"Oh gods, I forgot, are you okay?"

"Yeah, that's the problem." the warrior ran her hands up and down her leg, a puzzled look on her face. 

"What's that mean?" the bard demanded.

"There's no pain.  None at all."

Gabrielle, puzzled and suddenly feeling tired of mind games, grabbed up the travel pack and quickly got the fire started that Xena had laid earlier.  She went back to her mate's side and watched closely as the warrior cut away the bandage from her leg.  Gabrielle felt herself whistle and heard the warrior gasp in surprise.  There was absolutely no wound at all.  The leg looked like it hadn't been cut at all.  With a frown of puzzlement, Xena cut away the bandage on her arm to find no wound there either.

Gabrielle's eyes were wide.  "Your shoulder?" she questioned softly.

"Nothing, like it had never been touched."

"Your face is healed too." Gabrielle marveled.

Gabrielle closed her eyes as Xena touched the bard's face in return, gently.  The calloused hands tenderly holding Gabrielle's face with such devotion it brought tears to the woman's eyes.

"What did you find?" Xena asked, pointing to Gabrielle's hand.

The bard blinked and then raised the objects to the light.  One of them was the Amazon necklace she had left behind for Xena to find, the warrior's hands quickly found that the necklace had been removed from her neck.  The other was a matching necklace.  To the one Xena had been wearing a small silver crescent moon with knotwork in the center had been added and on the other one was a gold blazing sun. 

"Wow."  the bard muttered.

"What's the second parchment say?" Xena asked as Gabrielle handed her the necklace Xena had been wearing since Gabrielle's disappearance from her uncle's home. 

"I just found out I'm the daughter of a god, sort of; I'm blessed by the gods, destined to save the world, and my soul mate was destined to destroy the world, what makes you think I want to know what else there is?" the bard grinned.

"You did save the world, my world." Xena laughed as the bard launched herself across the small space and tackled the warrior.  Gabrielle delighted in the warrior's laughter, it was music to the young woman's ears.  Gabrielle held Xena close, nuzzling the warrior's neck.

"I love you, no matter what the gods had in mind I would have fallen in love with you."

"Back at you, little one."

Feeling comfortable and safe, Gabrielle rearranged herself, staying on top of her warrior.  She grinned and quickly kissed the lips of the woman below her and then reached for the parchment.  Xena grinned and lightly tickled the bard's ribs, getting Gabrielle to giggle a little as she unfolded the paper.

The bard slowly unfolded the paper and turned it towards the light.  Once again that evening the bard found herself overwhelmed with information, her mind refusing to process any more.  She turned the paper so Xena could see it, her face puzzled.

A sun symbol with Xena's chakram and a parchment with pen in the center was the only thing on the paper.  Gabrielle found herself trying to put together a coherent sentence while the warrior laughed.

"Wow." Gabrielle muttered, remembering what she and Xena had seen in the vision.  Was she the daughter of a God?  Looked like it might be.  Touched by the Gods, Apollo in particular, seemed definite.

The coherent thought that the bard was trying to put together became totally elusive when Xena began kissing her, passion quickly turning the kiss from a gentle and tender one into something deeper.  Gabrielle moaned and dropped the parchment as her fingers laced through the warrior's hair.  Holding Xena close the bard shifted slightly on her warrior's body, bringing her thigh between Xena's legs and bringing the knee up, causing Xena to moan with pleasure.    

She started kissing the bard deeply, pleased not to be in pain for the first time in a month. 

Gabrielle's hands moved between them and unbuckled the belt Xena was wearing and pushed it aside, and then moved her hands under the shirt her warrior was wearing to grasp Xena's breasts and the warrior moaned.  Gabrielle moaned in response and dropped her head to the warrior's neck, anxious to find the spot that she knew could drive Xena into an absolute frenzy. After they had finally become lovers, the bard had been delighted to find that Xena's neck was highly sensitive to the bard's teeth and Gabrielle was always reminded of the adventure when they dealt with Bacchus.  Gabrielle had very fond memories of biting Xena with her bacchae fangs and feeling the strong warrior moaning and writhing in her arms as the erotic bite filled her veins with the call of the bacchae, of the blood.  Gabrielle didn't miss being a bacchae, but she did admit, usually with a blush to the warrior, that she found the bite extremely erotic still. 

Xena moaned, arching slightly as her body responded with its own heat.  The warrior's fingers were busy unlacing the bard's top.  Gabrielle yelped with surprise when the warrior sat up and grabbed one of the bard's nipples between her teeth and lips.  The blond threw her head back and moaned in delight. 

"Oh gods, Xena."

"I can't get enough of you, Gabrielle." Xena whispered, kissing the bard from her breasts, up the neck and to those lips she always craved.  The warrior held the smaller woman tight in her arms while their lips and tongues fought each other, teasing and playing. 

The bard, lacing her fingers in Xena's hair, held the warrior's head close and tight as they kissed roughly, tongues exploring each other, fighting for dominance, revealing in the energy passing back and forth.  Gabrielle lightly nipped Xena's lower lip and the warrior answered by grabbing the bard's nipples with her fingers.  The bard gasped again and found her hips rocking and moving from the lightning streaking through her body, a high point at each place the warrior was kissing and touching

Gabrielle moaned and began breathing rapidly when Xena began to kiss her way back down the bard's neck and to her breasts, first teasing and lavishing one and then the other until Gabrielle was squirming in her lap. 

"I haven't been able to touch you in so long like this," Xena whispered.

Gabrielle whimpered and pulled Xena's tunic top off to reach the dark one's breasts as well. 

Xena growled and grabbed the back of Gabrielle's hair, pulling her head up to the warrior's lips.  They both moaned and whimpered with the kiss, neither sure who was making what sound any longer.  Gabrielle brought a cry out of her warrior by tweaking the woman's nipples and Xena responded by quickly removing the bard's belt and dropping the wrap around skirt away from the blonde's lovely body.            

Xena was delighted to see her lover wasn't wearing any undergarments.  Gabrielle whimpered as Xena's fingers slid easily along the folds of her lower lips, teasing just at the woman's entrance and her clit, never quite reaching either destination.  Gabrielle bit her lip in frustration and moaned.  The bard knew she was very aroused and wasn't sure if she had ever been that wet for her lover before.  Gabrielle cried out when Xena seized one of her nipples roughly with her teeth and entered the bard with several fingers. 

The bard clung to her lover's shoulders, body trembling uncontrollably.  Xena felt her own body begin spasming as the bard bit into her neck, Gabrielle cries becoming louder and intense. 

Gabrielle whimpered and clung to Xena's shoulders, her body demanding more of the warrior with each thrust.  She felt the warrior begin trembling as she bit down on Xena's neck and shoulder, her own body trembling out of control.  The warrior's lips, teeth and tongue continued dashing between each of the bard's nipples and Gabrielle heard herself whimpering and moaning, her voice getting louder and louder. 

All conscious thoughts fled in the onslaught of the waves that swept over the bard and she felt her head tossing back with a scream as her body collapsed over her warrior, trembling as the waves kept her body moving.

Time seemed to stand still for the lovers as passion took over their bodies.  Xena was always amazed by the endurance, strength and depth of passion of her little bard.  One thing the warrior was grateful, too many people seemed to underestimate Gabrielle. 

Together the two fell back, Gabrielle on top of Xena, still clinging to her warrior.  When she felt she could breath enough again to talk she grinned into her lover's bright blue eyes.  Her fingers brushing a lock of dark hair from Xena's forehead.


Xena grinned back.  "For a bard, you seem to have short sentences."

"Sometimes one needs to do their talking with the body and not the voice. I think I can find a use for my tongue elsewhere, what do you think?" the bard began nibbling on Xena's earlobe, causing the warrior to gasp and lose whatever complete sentence she had been trying to put together. 

Gabrielle's hand danced around Xena's nipples for a moment and then slowly worked its way down to the warrior's sex.

"Yes!" the warrior hissed as Gabrielle's hand parted her lips and began playing.  First entering and then pulling back from Xena and then rubbing the swollen clit of the warrior and entering again until Xena was squirming, unsure which sensation was pulling the most intensity from her.

"Gabrielle, please!"

The bard had moved down to the warrior's breasts and was biting and sucking each in turn.  Xena's hands found the bard's hair and began urging her lover's head lower.  Gabrielle grinned and grabbed one of the hands with her own, interlacing their fingers.

Xena groaned as her body rocked, hips moving of their own accord and the bard matched the rhythm with her hands. 

The bard continued her slow path down with her tongue and lips, never losing contact with Xena's body with either. 

"Oh Gods, yes!" the warrior urged.

"Patience, my love." the bard whispered and grinned when the warrior growled in frustration.

When she finally positioned herself between the warrior's legs, Xena was writhing in need and frustration.  Gabrielle breathed a sigh of amazement; she never tired of her lover and could never get enough of touching her.  The bard remembered when she caught herself watching Xena every chance she got and was actually fantasizing touching and tasting the other woman.  She had fought against those feelings but now she couldn't imagine life without the warrior woman. 

Gabrielle felt herself moan with passion as her tongue parted the lower lips of the warrior.  She felt her own body begin trembling.  Both Gabrielle and Xena were always amazed and pleased with this aspect of their relationship, somehow they were so connected that their bodies responded to each other's growing passion, taking them over their own small orgasmic edges along with their lover.  Gabrielle slowly ran her tongue between the warrior's lower lips, never losing her rhythm with her fingers.  Xena cried out, her hand painfully pulling and grasping the bard's hand, her other hand digging into the ground next to the blanket.  Sweat had bathed both of them and the bard could see every muscle in Xena's body straining and standing out.

Hearing Xena's cries was something that pleased the bard immensely.  Gabrielle hadn't really been surprised to learn that she was the only lover Xena had ever been vocal with.  She had smiled and teased Xena about control issues and the warrior had growled that it had been for security reasons.  The admission had ended in a tickle fight when the bard laughed and insisted it was a control issue for the warrior.

Gabrielle welcomed the cries of passion and used her tongue over Xena's clit to encourage more sounds from her mate. 

Xena had gone beyond the point of any conscious thought and she felt herself reaching the point of losing all control.  This was always a point she struggled against, wanting to give everything to Gabrielle and yet struggling to hold back slightly.  An inner battle always raged in the warrior at this point, no one else had ever brought Xena over that point before the little bard.  It felt very much like falling, like dying, she once thought.  It had been difficult for the warrior to admit to but Xena had admitted that no one had ever taken her over that final edge of total release, of total loss of control.  Gabrielle was the first to ever get her that close and the only one to get her over the edge. 

Gabrielle raised her head and looked at her warrior's face, seeing and feeling the struggle.  "Xena, let go. I will always catch you."

Xena screamed as she fell over that point.

Gabrielle blinked and sat up suddenly, aware of a bright light falling over her and her sleeping warrior.  She was startled to see Apollo standing next to them, the light shining from his hand, just as in the vision.

Gabrielle quickly turned and found Xena sleeping soundly, arm still thrown over the bard's stomach.

"Don't worry, she'll sleep." Apollo smiled and offered his other hand to help the bard up. 

With a blush she grabbed one of the blankets and pulled it around her and accepted his hand.  He continued to hold her hand and they walked a few feet away from the sleeping Xena.  He motioned to a place in the grass and they both sat down.

Gabrielle was grateful for whatever magic Apollo had worked on her warrior, the thought of Xena being awakened by a god after the intense lovemaking they had just gone through was frightening.  The bard smiled to herself, Xena hated dealing with the gods.

"Are you my father or just had a hand in blessing the child that was all ready in my mother's womb?" the bard questioned.

"I'm your father and the other gods had hands in blessing you."  Apollo smiled.  If Xena had been awake she would have realized where the light that shined in Gabrielle's eyes and smile came from. "You were and are special, Gabrielle. Ares had gained such influence over the world at the time.  Sparta was a military state, totally dedicated to his purpose, all the Greek states were fighting each other and Rome was beginning its trek towards the military might she has and will continue to become.  The Fates foretold that he would influence a soul beyond all our belief and this child would grow to be the fiercest warrior the world had seen, a soul for the darkness.  Some of us demanded a chance at balance and Zeus and Hera agreed."

"Why me?" the bard asked while she watched Xena sleeping peacefully, she shuddered at the thought of what might have been. Total domination of the known world and destruction. 

"You were destined to meet Xena whether we influenced anything or not. We decided to give you an edge, to bring your natural light to the surface and we prayed your light would reach her inner soul and bring it to life again."

He brushed a hand fondly over her hair.

"We were meant to be without you?"       

"Yes, child. Your talents are natural, Gabrielle, just as the light of your soul is. Xena has a natural fighting ability, Ares just enhanced it and brought it out in her.  I brought out your natural bardic skills and the light of your soul."

"What about the other gods?" Gabrielle asked.

"They had a hand in your development as well." Apollo suddenly looked serious.  "Some of that influence wasn't of the light either. It'll be up to you to find out what your blessings are and how sometimes they can be mixed with darkness."

"Be careful what you ask for?" Gabrielle smiled a grim smile.

"Yes, exactly." then he grinned at her. "Some mysteries you have to find out the old fashioned way.  Stumble over them."

"Yes, exactly." 

He laughed at the glare his daughter gave him at that one.  Even in Olympus, the bard's stubborn streak was becoming known. 

"What happens now?"

"There will be many trials, many tests of your love with Xena. It's a hard task we've set before you, the darkness will always be there with both of you." Apollo leaned back on his elbows, watching the bard closely.

He noted the stubborn set of the jaw again. 

"I knew that when I met her, we both know that.  We'll meet whatever comes."

"Well said, bard." he sat up and then stood up. 

"Now you plan for a bonding ceremony. I am proud of the life you've led and are leading, Gabrielle.  When Xena begins to question her parentage again and discovers some aspects of herself, call on me.  You have inherited certain rights from me."

"You mean like Hercules?" Gabrielle's eyes were wide with surprise.

"Yes, I do." He leaned down and kissed her cheek.  "Remember, I am the God of Youth." and with that he was gone.

"Youth? Oh boy."

A voice called out of the darkness, "Don't forget to invite some of us to the bonding."

"Wow." Gabrielle stood up and looked down at her sleeping warrior.  "I wonder how you'll feel about that one, my love. I know how you hate dealing with the gods." Gabrielle grinned and then snuggled back into Xena's arms.

Her mind already whirling, a bonding ceremony to plan for.

See what happens next in   " Amazon Bonding, An Awakening III"

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